AUSTIN, TEXAS - The University of Texas fell silent at 11:48 a.m. Monday as a crowd of hundreds gathered for a ceremony to remember the victims and honor the survivors of the tower shooting that happened 50 years ago.
The first shots rang out on campus at 11:48 a.m. on that day in 1966. UT student and Marine-trained sniper Charles Whitman had killed his wife and mother earlier that morning before going to the tower observation deck and opening fire on all who walked by. He killed 17 people that day, including an unborn child, before police put an end to his 96-minute long attack by killing him.
Fifty years later, the campus stood still as two students played taps and the American and Texas flags were lowered to half-staff.
The attendees marched together, across the Main Mall, to the Tower Garden as bagpipes were played. Helping to lead them was Claire Wilson James. In her hands were two white roses for the two loves she lost that day.
"I knew Tom was dead and so I thought, you know, I just thought and I knew the baby wasn't moving anymore," James recalled.
Then, she was 18-years old. Her boyfriend, Thomas Eckman, and their unborn son were killed as her own life hung in the balance.
"I heard people saying that they couldn't help me that I was too far gone, they were yelling that up on the steps so I thought, I guess this is it," James recalled.
Surrounded by other survivors, some of the brave officers who stopped the shooter that day and families of the victims, Wilson and others rededicated the university's Tower Garden and unveiled a monument, a rock engraved with the names of those killed, donated by Cook-Walden Funeral Home.
"There will never be a relief from the pain and that the scars you live with have also scared this great university. My hope is today's remembrance can play at least a small role in helping you and helping us heal," said University of Texas President Gregory Fenves during the ceremony.
For James, the rock is doing just that.
"It did really help. I didn't think it would. I just hope it will help, especially other people," James said.
University staff stopped the tower clock at 11:48 a.m. and it will remain stopped for 24 hours. The tower will also remain dark the night of Aug. 1 to honor the victims.
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